It humbled me to have to come down from my ivory tower of Vegangelicalism and let go of the gazes of admiration.
There is a YouTube video of a speech I made two years ago, emphatically proclaiming that I would never again consume animal products.
In my impassioned speech, I share graphic imagery of the cruel treatment of animals by the fashion, food, entertainment and medical science industries. I challenge the audience to watch the animal rights film Earthlings. I watched this film before I decided to become a vegan.
It took me five tries to watch it all the way through, as I would break down sobbing each time, filled with such despair and powerlessness as I watched the suffering of helpless animals.
So I thought that what I could do, and was within my power, was not to eat or consume any animal products, including buying any more leather and obviously fur products. I had already been considering becoming vegan or at least vegetarian, after having been affected by films such as The Cove, Food Inc. and Food Matters, over a period of a six months. Watching Earthlings was the final push that helped me make the commitment to becoming vegan.
After my speech, I preached to my family and friends about eating a vegan diet, disapproving of their choices to eat meat or go to a seafood restaurant. I forced my mother to sit down and watch Earthlings—two hours and 40 min of animals being slaughtered and killed in the cruelest ways.
To her credit, she didn’t put up much of a fight. I was on a one woman crusade to save every single animal and inspire everyone to become vegan, stop wearing fur and boycott all organisations and corporations that tested on animals.
Most of my closest friends indulged me and let me choose the restaurants we ate at. Of course, I chose vegetarian restaurants whenever I could. Some of them would apologise if they were eating meat/seafood in front of me and asked if I minded. My cousin was thrilled that she was no longer going to be the only vegan in the village.
My family, however, had mixed reactions, having been witness to my various diets over the years. Some were supportive, others indifferent and invited me to a steak house for Christmas.
For the first year, I thrived.
I lost weight, I became leaner. My skin became clearer, my digestion improved, I felt energized. I enjoyed learning about vegan foods, trying new vegan recipes, searching out restaurants serving vegan fare—of which there are many in Singapore*—and learning about vegan alternatives to leather belts, shoes and wallets. I was delighted to find the wonderful brand Harveys, which produces elegant bags and wallets made from upcycled seatbelts.
On my return from a trip to Thailand, where I ate many raw fruits and drank fruit juices, I came back feeling very tired and after a consultation with a naturopath, found out that I had picked up parasites. It took me over a year to recover, with various herbs and holistic treatments—and I am still taking these anti-parasitic herbs, as I make sure my body is completely clear of them.
My teeth started to lose enamel and decay at an alarming rate, with much pain and I had to have three root canals and a dental implant before I did research on natural dental health and veganism, which led me to a book on how dairy foods and meat high in iron, like liver, were the best dietary choices for repairing poor dental health.
This was the first sobering news I received. I did not want to immediately start eating dairy or meat, but I kept this at the back of my mind as a last resort and continued to do research and try to add in as much calcium, protein, Vitamin D and B12 into my diet through supplementation and vegan foods. I went on to find even more articles and blogs by recovering vegans who had suffered from vitamin and mineral deficiencies, exhaustion and dental problems.
Anyone that knows me well will know that eating nutritious wholesome foods is a passion of mine. I eat well. I can’t remember the last time I was in McDonalds and I make sure to include a wide variety of organic fruit, vegetables and grains in my diet.
For those who are vegans or vegetarians, you might be thinking that I just didn’t have the right information on what kinds of foods you need to eat or that I just wasn’t committed or disciplined enough. Some of you non-veggies may be thinking the same.
I know, I thought that too of others in the past and judged myself as well. I now know, from my personal experience and research, that not everybody can be a vegan or even vegetarian—and I am one of those people.
After a full year of trying to rid my body of parasites and regain my energy, vitality and stop the alarming decay of my teeth, I had to admit that I just couldn’t do it anymore. I just couldn’t continue being on a vegan diet.
I started to eat some dairy, then seafood and eventually small amounts of meat. As I introduced more varieties of food into my diet, I noticed that my digestion improved. My stomach wasn’t bloated all the time and I left a meal feeling full, instead of always thinking about the next meal. My mind was clearer and I didn’t have to drag myself out of bed each morning because I was so lacking in energy. I finally got rid of the parasites in my body and received a clean bill of health. My teeth started to feel strong and in a stable condition.
It is a work-in-progress and I don’t always feel on track, but now my commitment is to my sense of equilibrium and an intuitive sense of what I need to eat a balanced diet. I know the difference now between being disciplined and committed, to being extremist. I have been learning this lesson most of my life, especially in terms of my diet. My slavish devotion to calorie counting, restrictive dieting and extremist dietary tendencies only tapered off as I stopped focusing on losing weight but instead on self-acceptance, health and balance.
I now aim to sustainably consume animal products, while not sacrificing my health to do so. I still focus mostly on eating unprocessed, natural whole vegetarian foods and continue to avoid additives, preservatives and fast foods. I still try to eat as many varieties of vegetables and fruits as possible. I also buy organic food as much as I can afford to. But now, my focus is also on what my body needs at each moment to nourish and energise itself. Sometimes that’s an egg or fish and other times it’s a simple green apple.
I confess that I am imperfect and I could not live up to the promise I made to never again consume any animal products 2 years ago.
But it is my imperfection that makes me human. It reminds me that I’m always learning and that what is best for me evolves moment-to-moment, as I seek to understand the individual choices I need to make to live in balance. It humbled me to have to come down from my ivory tower of Vegangelicalism and let go of the gazes of admiration I lapped up when I told others I was vegan.
I write this article not as a warning against veganism or vegetarianism, but extremism.
I believe that there are individuals who have the constitution, health and lifestyle that allows them to be healthy as vegans or vegetarians. I wish I was one of them. My love for animals and desire to contribute to reducing the cruelty inflicted on them has not gone away or lessened in any form. It broke my heart to have to eat dairy, seafood and meat again.
However, I found that to be healthy and compassionate toward myself, I had to do so. Maybe that’s more important than trying to be perfect, absolute or seeking admiration and acknowledgement from others for your lifestyle and resolve.
My imperfections and contradictions keep me grounded and appreciative of the complexities of life and connected to more people. By being compassionate with myself, I can be compassionate and accepting of others and realise that our existence is often beyond labels, absolute values and personal struggles; that there is a boundless perspective that we cannot grasp from our level of consciousness. I find that very reassuring, that there is a boundless indefinable consciousness that is in charge and I can let go as I’m just a very small part of it.
Paradoxically by being a part of it, I am also more, boundless and indefinable. And maybe what seems imperfect to me from my perspective, is perfect in the grand scheme of things, after all.
* Singapore was listed as one of the top 10 cities in the world for Vegetarian food by raw food advocate and author Frederic Patenaude.
** An instructional website on curing tooth decay with natural foods by dental health author, Ramiel Nagel.
*** A raw vegan family share about their journey to health.
Michelle Ayn Tessensohn is a healer, coach and writer who has been on a journey of self-healing and a search for understanding that has led her across the globe and back again, to the tablelands of Australia, ancient Celtic sites in Europe, native Indian territories in America, remote regions of South America and back home again to Singapore. She met spiritual teachers, shamans and participated in healing ceremonies that had a profound impact on her and helped her develop a solid personal philosophy and discover what was truly important to her. She now shares her experience and processes in her workshops and personal consultation work and facilitates this awakening process for others. Besides her personal consultation work, Michelle also gives talks, workshops and speaks publicly about natural healing and human potential. You can read more about her work at www.visionarypassages.com.
Editor: Sarah Winner
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